08-24-22 | Feature

Art and Architecture in Downtown Salina, Kansas

Downtown Salina is once again thriving with activity
by Troy Henningson, HDR Engineering, Inc.

Santa Fe Avenue is a 0.67-mile street in downtown Salina, Kansas, and is home to the city's annual "SculptureTour Salina" exhibition where artists compete to have their creations on display. The four downtown blocks were in need of improvement so the city called on landscape architecture firm HDR to design a new streetscape and improve the pedestrian experience and safety.
Santa Fe Avenue spans four, relatively long blocks which inspired the inclusion of mid-block pedestrian crossings. 116 of the light poles were added in a previous project prior to the streetscape project. The team had to move some of the existing ones around to make them fit with the new concept, and, in doing so, also added an additional 26 poles.
During the community outreach of the project, Salina residents communicated their admiration for the overhanging structures above the crosswalks. However, the existing structures had corroded over the years, so the Landscape Architect included new overhead structures in the streetscape design. There are four structures along Santa Fe Avenue, three of which are identical including the structure pictured here. They span 72' from one side of the street to the other and are 20' wide.
Found on the southernmost block on Santa Fe Avenue is Spilman Plaza, one of the four pocket parks/plazas on the project. Concrete seat walls have a recessed light strip that makes the bottom of the bench glow at night and ties it into the rest of the streetscape elements. Overhead catenary festival lighting was attached to poles above the plaza, and floodlights were placed in the planters that shine on the trees within the planting beds.
This structure differs from the other three. It is angled to connect two pocket parks on either side of the street. It utilizes the same materials but is a little different in size as it spans about 85' in length across the road compared to 72' in the other structures.
This 14' square furnished area contains the same clay pavers used throughout the project. Steel benches from Sitescapes were chosen because of the ornamental grass pattern in the backrest of the bench. This ties together with the landscaping concept used throughout the streetscape with the planting of ornamental grasses.
The project contains 6,800 sq. ft. of clay pavers in "Flash Tan" and "Beige" colors that were chosen to match the surrounding buildings. Along this sidewalk, the pavers are 2-1/4" thick and designed in a "chevron" pattern (see inset). Standing on the pavers is one of the art installations from the SculptureTour Salina. The Wausau Tile planters are made of reinforced precast concrete. The color is "Sand" and the banding pattern is "Westlake." Each planter weighs 700 pounds when empty. They are also connected to the irrigation system from below.
The parking stalls are set at a 45-degree angle from the sidewalk. This was to maximize the space available for pedestrians on the sidewalk. Instead of a traditional 60-degree parking stall that takes up 20 feet from curb into the roadway, the 45-degree spaces use only 14'3", leaving the remainder to widen the sidewalk and create a more comfortable pedestrian experience.

Santa Fe Avenue is the lifeblood of Downtown Salina, Kansas, with 2/3 of a mile of prime retail, dining, and shopping destinations. With four-lanes of through traffic and angled parking on both sides of the street, the previous corridor cross section left very little space in the pedestrian realm for HDR Engineering, Inc., a landscape architecture firm based in Omaha, Nebraska, to design aesthetic enhancements and pedestrian safety.

Previous enhancements to the corridor were last completed in the 1980s and many of the design features were no longer desirable, including cracked sidewalks and empty planters where there were once trees and other vegetation. Many closed storefronts and vacant buildings were scattered along the four main blocks of the downtown district. In 2018, The City of Salina made a strategic effort to revitalize their downtown and to spur redevelopment and reinvestment in the area by focusing on catalyst projects that would help attract visitors from, not only the local area, but the greater region surrounding Salina. Some of these projects include the Salina Fieldhouse, a multi-purpose indoor facility that attracts youth sports teams to the area; the Homewood Suites, a major downtown hotel; the Alley, an indoor entertainment facility featuring bowling, laser tag, an arcade, and sports grill; and the American Classics Auto Museum, which is an education museum focusing on classic cars. To supplement these catalyst projects, the city established a strong connection to the art community by putting a yearly exhibition together called SculptureTour Salina, which curates between fifteen to twenty-five sculptures each year and carefully sites the sculptures within the historic downtown for the viewing enjoyment of the community. The self-guided tour allows individuals to vote on their favorite piece each year and the sculpture with the most votes at the end of the year is purchased by the City of Salina and remains within the community for the public to enjoy.


The next step in the process of returning downtown Salina to its former glory was to refresh Santa Fe Avenue, the main street in the downtown area, and improve the aesthetics of the corridor. The existing building stock is in good shape, and many of the older buildings within downtown Salina were designed in the Art Deco architectural style and have historical significance. One of the most prominent buildings along the corridor is the Stiefel Theatre which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and hosts many notable performance artists on their schedule. The existing Art Deco buildings provided the backdrop for the streetscape project and informed many of the design features and components utilized in the final redevelopment of the streetscape. To create a functional street that would cater to the many needs of the community, a robust public engagement process was followed to determine the priorities and objectives for what the ultimate cross section of the corridor would become. Many ideas and options were tested and ranked during a series of in-person workshops where the public could cast their votes on various components of the streetscape in online or paper surveys. The questions revolved around the type of hardscape materials to be used, their desire for wider sidewalks, whether seating would be incorporated into the design, their interest in outdoor dining areas, the type and look of the landscaping concept, where public art should be incorporated, the lane configuration of the roadway, and whether there should be medians within the corridor.

After summarizing the feedback from the surveys, and considering the functionality of the corridor, it was decided that Santa Fe Avenue would incorporate a road diet and transform from a four-lane section into a three-lane section. This allowed two through lanes and a center lane for turning movements and temporary parking. The center lane subsequently became a temporary loading and unloading zone for trucks serving the surrounding businesses since many of the buildings lack a rear alley and receive deliveries through their front doors. This loading area was delineated utilizing historic bricks that were salvaged from underneath the existing roadway when it was demolished. The sidewalks were widened to increase pedestrian comfort and expand the zone available for aesthetic enhancements while also allowing the parking stalls to get deeper.

The pedestrian realm between the parking areas and the building storefronts was separated into two distinct areas, one for through movements and access to buildings, and the remainder utilized as a furnishings zone.
The through movement zone was designed to be simple and use plain concrete scored in a square pattern to provide a smooth surface to accommodate access into surrounding businesses.
The furnishings zone is where the bulk of the aesthetic enhancements were utilized. Brick paver accents highlighted the furnishings zone and used similar colors as the adjacent buildings. An Art Deco pattern was used within the area with contrasting brick colors, a nod to the historical significance of the features found on the surrounding buildings. Raised planter pots were centered along the sidewalk and bring a splash of seasonal color while also adding another vertical element to the streetscape. In-ground planter beds were designed with an assortment of colorful perennials, wildflowers, and ornamental grasses. Appropriate trees were added to the planters that are columnar and are compatible with viewing storefronts while still providing shade to pedestrians without branches extending into the sidewalk. With the SculptureTour Salina in mind, a variety of spaces were designed to accommodate sculptures, including flush concrete pads and raised sculpture pedestals
to accommodate larger sculptures. A family of street furnishings were added, from trash receptacles, bicycle racks, benches, and pedestrian-scale lighting, that were comprised of all black metal components tying everything together.

Mid-block pedestrian crossings were designed to be accentuated by ornamental overhead structures with Art Deco influences and customized with color-changing LED lights for the purposes of visual interest. The crosswalk materials were brick pavers to create a change of texture for pedestrian safety. These crosswalks were desired due to the blocks being a significant distance between intersections. Four urban plazas adjacent to Santa Fe Avenue were also included in the plan, and each took on their own individual appearance while serving a variety of flexible functionality that could be programmed for various activities. Corner nodes appear at the intersections to minimize the pedestrian crossing distance, contain entrance gateway monuments, and protect seating areas with contrasting brick colors for visual aesthetics. All of the various aesthetic enhancements utilized in the streetscape design help set Salina apart from their peers. Construction on this $11 million project began in spring of 2018 and was completed in the fall of 2020. Since the streetscape completion, many of the previously empty storefronts are filling up with new businesses and downtown Salina is once again thriving with activity.


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